'You feel the situation is as bad as it gets and then it outdoes itself,' says doctor in Rafah

British doctor James Smith spoke to ITV News about the night of the Israeli strike which led to the deaths of dozens of people

A British doctor based in Rafah has described how each day's atrocities "outdo themselves" in the wake of an Israeli strike that sparked a deadly fire and killed dozens of people.

On Sunday, a strike in the southern Gazan city - which was once seen as the final place for refuge - hit tent camps housing displaced Palestinians and a huge fire engulfed many of the makeshift dwellings.

Palestinian health officials say at least 45 people, half of them women and children, were killed.

Dr James Smith, an emergency doctor working in Rafah, told ITV News patients were presenting with "some of the most horrific injuries you can imagine", including "extensive burns, open fractures, blast injuries and shrapnel wounds".

Israel now says Hamas may have been responsible for the large fire that killed dozens of people on Sunday, ITV News Correspondent John Ray reports

"What we can say confidently now is more than 200 people were injured or killed," he said, adding over the course of Sunday night the Trauma Stabilisation Point he works at received at least 31 people who had been killed.

Dr Smith described the night as "horrific and incomprehensible," and said "each day you feel like the situation has, has gotten as bad as it can get and then it outdoes itself."

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, Israel's chief military spokesman, said that the military fired two 17-kilogram munitions that targeted two senior Hamas militants.

But he said the munitions would have been too small to ignite a fire on their own and the military is looking into the possibility that weapons were stored in the area.

The fire also could have ignited fuel, cooking gas canisters, or other materials in the densely populated camp.

Rear Admiral Hagari called it a "devastating incident", and said the fire was "unexpected and unintended." But he stressed that it is still "too early to determine what happened."

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment in Rafah Credit: AP

New strikes in the same western Tel al-Sultan district of Rafah killed at least 16 Palestinians on Tuesday, the Palestinian Civil Defence and the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the strike was a "tragic mishap".

Mr Netanyahu told Israel's parliament: "Despite our utmost efforts not to harm innocent civilians, last night, there was a tragic mishap.

"We are investigating the incident and will obtain a conclusion because this is our policy."

Frances Leach, head of media at Action Aid, said: "These shelters were supposed to be safe havens for innocent civilians, yet they became targets of brutal violence.

"Children, women, and men are being burned alive under their tents and shelters."

He said the "vast majority" of patients had come from the IDP (internally displaced persons) camp in the west of Rafah.

"This was an area in the supposed safe zone. Only a couple of days earlier the Israeli forces had expanded what they are referring to as a the humanitarian zone, incorporating the block in which that IDP camp is located," he said.

A spokesperson with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, meanwhile, said the death toll was likely to rise as search and rescue efforts continued in Tal al-Sultan - about two kilometres northwest of the city centre.

Sunday night’s attack, which appeared to be one of the war’s deadliest, helped push the overall Palestinian death toll in the war above 36,000, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

The strike killed mostly women and children. Credit: AP

In response to the strikes, Catherine Russell, chief executive of UNICEF, said: "The reported killing of children sheltering in makeshift tents is unconscionable."

Mohammed Abuassa, who rushed to the scene of the strike, said rescuers “pulled out people who were in an unbearable state”.

The attacks came two days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to end its military offensive in Rafah, where more than half of Gaza's 2.3 million population had sought shelter before Israel's incursion earlier this month.

Dr Martin said the ICJ ruling meant "the military aggression in Rafah must stop" but he added: "To see this in the immediate wake of that tells me, there is nothing that will stop Israel that has been presented thus far."

French President Emmanuel Macron was among the world leaders who condemned the attack, expressing his "outrage" and calling for strikes in Rafah to stop.

The airstrike was reported just hours after rocket sirens sounded across central Israel, including in Tel Aviv, for the first time in months as Hamas claimed to have fired a barrage of rockets from Gaza.

Palestinians react next to the destruction after an Israeli strike where displaced people were staying in Rafah. Credit: AP

In a separate development, Egypt’s military said one of its soldiers was shot dead during an exchange of fire in the Rafah area, without providing further details.

Israel said it was in contact with Egyptian authorities, and both sides said they were investigating.

Since the outbreak of the war, Rafah had been the main channel for aid to enter Gaza, but that came to a halt after Israeli forces seized the Palestinian side earlier this month, while Egypt has refused to open its side of the crossing.

Egypt had temporarily agreed to divert traffic through Israel's Kerem Shalom crossing, Gaza's main cargo terminal, but it has been largely inaccessible due to fighting in Rafah.

Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks to enter, but United Nations (UN) agencies say it is usually too dangerous to retrieve the aid on the other side.

Israeli soldiers walk in a staging area for their tanks near the Gaza border in southern Israel. Credit: AP

Northern Gaza, which has been largely isolated by Israeli troops for months and where the UN's World Food Program says famine is already underway, is still receiving aid through two land routes that Israel opened in the face of worldwide outrage after Israeli strikes killed seven aid workers in April.

A few dozen trucks have also been entering Gaza daily through a US-built floating pier, but its capacity remains far below the 150 trucks a day that officials had hoped for.

Aid groups say the territory needs a total of 600 trucks a day to meet colossal humanitarian needs.

International pressure is also growing, as the war leaves Israel increasingly isolated on the world stage.

Last week, three European countries announced they would recognise a Palestinian state, and the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court requested arrest warrants for Mr Netanyahu and Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, along with three Hamas leaders.

What has the human cost of the war been?

  • The war between Israel and Hamas, now in its eighth month, has killed over 35,800 Palestinians, with the majority of these being women and children, according to Gaza's Health Ministry.

  • Around 80% of the population's 2.3 million people have fled their homes, severe hunger is widespread and UN officials say parts of the territory are experiencing famine.

  • Hamas triggered the war with its October 7 attack into Israel, in which Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seized some 250 hostages.

  • Hamas is still holding some 100 hostages and the remains of around 30 others after most of the rest were released during a ceasefire last year.

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